Nope, it’s not a myth: Thailand is the home of a very rare, pink albino species of dolphin and we had the privilege of seeing them in their natural habitat. It was the first time I’d seen dolphins in real life (apart from a school trip to the Dolfinarium) and it was an experience I won’t soon forget…
“Hey Maris”, said Sander, busily browsing through a Lonely Planet
“How would you like to see some pink dolphins?”
“What? What are you talking about?” I replied absent-mindedly.
“Wait, let me read it to you out loud…”
“Khanom is a pretty Gulf of Thailand bay with long beaches and regular visits from pink albino dolphins. It is a dreamy natural setting without much development.”
“OMG, are you serious?! Of course I want to see that!”
So we did.
Khanom is a lovely small, sleepy town on the mainland, located on the coast right across from busy Koh Samui. The town is known for its long, white sandy beaches, its mountainous terrain and the pink dolphins who prominently figure on all the street signs. You won’t find any tourists here for miles and miles. The locals are friendly, hospitable and incredibly helpful – despite not speaking a word of English.
We decided to try our luck and hopped on our motorbike in the hope of spotting some dolphins. What we encountered was strips of sand stretching out for miles with no bungalows, restaurants or other tourists walking around. The beach was surrounded by green mountains and huge limestone cliffs. Here and there you could see some locals swimming in the sea and a brightly colored kite riding the winds. Unfortunately, however, no dolphins.
We asked one of the friendly locals for help and were told that this wasn’t the right place. The dolphins were about 20 kilometers away from there, right next to Donsak pier, near Nang Kam Beach.
In search of the pink dolphins
So, the next morning, we hopped on our motorbikes again and rode to Nang Kam Beach – another one of those gorgeous, unspoiled beaches. Right off the coast was a tiny island in the shape of dolphin; that’s a good sign!
First we rode to the old pier, which the Lonely Planet said was a hotspot for spotting the dolphins. We saw lots of brightly colored fishing boats and fishermen bringing in their nets filled with fishes, but unfortunately, again we saw no dolphins.
We decided to hire a boat that would take us some of the dolphins’ favorite spots, which turned out to be much harder than we thought. Using Google Translate and the appropriate gestures, we managed, 45 minutes later, to get on the rattling long tail boat for 900 bahtYes, let our adventure begin!
We passed a huge Seatran ferry and entered a small bay, where just up ahead there was an even bigger Raja ferry. Is this right, are we in the right place?
“I SEE ONE!”
A little up ahead, we noticed a grey fin sticking out above the surface of the water, and then another one. Breathlessly, we waited, until we heard a soft breathing sound. I was at the tip of my seat, barely able contain myself. Intently, I kept staring at the water.
All of a sudden, a group of three dolphins, one of them a baby dolphin, appeared right in front of the boat. Every few minutes or so, they would come up to the surface for air. They weren’t entirely pink, as I’d been expecting: their backs were grey, but their bellies were a salmon colored pink. The dolphins turn entirely pink as they get older.
Suddenly we saw one dolphin speeding across the water on its back, enabling us to see its pink belly. It was chasing a fish which, probably fearing for its life, jumped out of the water and back in again. The dolphin followed suit and made a huge splash when it landed back in the water. Wow!
Witnessing this scene from a distance, we noticed how they hunted in packs. At some point, the little baby dolphin came closer to the boat and showed its little face. I fell in love right there and then.
We were the only ones in the bay – apart from a few smelly ferries that kept coming and going. I was surprised that rare animals such as these had to live in these sorts of conditions, that is to say, basically sandwiched in between piers with levels of polluting exhaust fumes that must be huge. That can’t be a good thing.
Despite the fact that there are only 2,000 pink albino dolphins left in the wild (this area is home to 60 of them), these animals don’t enjoy a protected status in Thailand. We think that’s really sad.
You see, the number of pink dolphins is dropping drastically. This is because of, among other things, pollution and illegal fishing practices; but also because of long tail boats that come too close.
Due to the growing tourism industry this will only be exacerbated and we fear that the dolphins may have to find another living environment in the future.
Of course, it’s an amazing experience to see such a rare animal in the wild, but at what cost? We – selfishly – did choose to go and spot them. We didn’t feed the dolphins, however, and we didn’t come too close.
But as soon as these pink dolphins become more known among the general public, it won’t be just one boat roaming around this bay, but several. That’s why we’re hoping that they will gain protected status very soon, so that they can keep on living here in freedom and we will all be able to enjoy them.